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November 10, 2010


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Thank you, Glenn. I miss your rock writing!


Wonderful post, Glenn!

steve mowrey

One of the iconic "punk" records & Cleveland's finest hour. Thanks for the cool review.

Phil Freeman

I interviewed Thomas for a cover story in The Wire a couple of years ago, around the time Pere Ubu released Why I Hate Women, an album with one of the all-time great titles. A fascinating guy, with some really compelling ideas about the role of the rock frontman and about songwriting POV - basically, he doesn't feel at all obligated to present his "real self" onstage or in his lyrics; in his view, he's being paid to be "David Thomas," and "David Thomas" is what you'll get. David Thomas (minus the quotes) is who he is in his off-hours.

Kent Jones

Once, when I played Bowie's "A New Career in a New Town" on the family stereo, my grandmother called from the kitchen: "Your record's skipping!" Another time, my mother listened to a few seconds of it, shot me a worried look and asked, "Is that acid rock?"

This is beautiful, GK. DATAPANIK IN THE YEAR ZERO was my first Ubu record (the EP obviously, as opposed to the CD box) and I liked it but wasn't over the moon (that happened later). THE MODERN DANCE had me swooning, as did DUB HOUSING and NEW PICNIC TIME. I think things started to get a little too arch and tightened up with THE ART OF WALKING despite some great moments, and SONG OF THE BAILING MAN always seemed like a David Thomas record instead of Ubu. But I loved TENEMENT YEAR even if they didn't (great tour, with Ravenstine back in the fold and no less than two drummers, Krauss and Chris Cutler - and I LOVED Thomas' trombone solo on "George Had a Hat"). Since then, PENNSYLVANIA's the only one that's grabbed me as a whole album, but they still make mind-expanding music. Truth to tell, I go back to the old records more often than I do to Television or The Clash or even the Heads.

Phil Freeman

Dub Housing is my favorite Ubu album. I don't think I ever played it around my mom, though; the only disc of theirs I owned while still living w/parents was the "greatest hits" disc Terminal Tower.

The only music I was forbidden to play around the house was AC/DC, because Brian Johnson's voice drove my mom batshit. She liked Iggy's voice, though, and she was a big Talking Heads fan.

That Fuzzy Bastard

Ah, the joys of being the only one in town who likes a record! My generational equivalent: In 1988, I was in high school in flyover country, surrounded by punk rockers whose major musical debate was Dead Kennedys versus The Exploited, and whether Sonic Youth had completely pussied-out with "Sister". And then my dedicated Spin-reading convinced me to buy "It Takes A Nation of Millions". And that record, well, a bunch of punks who loved throwing "Fun House" or "Earth A.D." into the test stereos of the local Fred Meyers just couldn't take it. That repetitive tea-whistle in "Rebel Without A Pause", the looped horn of "Night of the Living Baseheads", the hollow drum sound of "Bring the Noise", not to mention the hectoring, shouting vocals and the noisy but spacious production that seemed miles removed from the fairly rockin' Run-D.M.C. I was in love, and if I'm honest, some of that love was precisely *because* I'd found something that even fans of "Sister Ray" couldn't handle.


Great piece, Glenn! Looking forward to more in the series.

A bit younger than you, I got into Ubu around 1992. I saw them live twice the following year (with Garo Yellin on cello, who tore it up during "30 Seconds Over Tokyo"). Got to say "hi" to Jim Jones in the parking lot at one of the shows, very sweet & gracious seeming guy. His health kept him from touring when I saw the band again 1995 touring for RAY GUN SUITCASE. Tom Herman was back in the band at that point and it was great to see him in action, including an especially intense "My Dark Ages." I love RGS, and PA, too, though I'll admit I haven't re-visited ST. ARKANSAS or WHY I HATE WOMEN too often.

You know about the live downloads at hearpen.com, right?

Joseph Neff

This is excellent, Glenn. Back in 1989 a record store clerk in my town started selling big chunks of her vinyl collection, and I picked up the whole run from DATAPANIK through SONG OF THE BAILING MAN for cheap, though it did wipe out a weeks' pay from my part-time gig at Roy Rogers. All I really knew about them at that point was gleaned from Spin and a handful of fanzines. CLOUDLAND came out right around the same time, and while a few friends dug "Waiting For Mary", which received a little late night MTV play during the summer after I graduated high school, all my peers were pretty well perplexed or annoyed when I'd spin those LPs. So I'd listen at home alone in my basement bedroom, or when I moved into a apartment with friends I'd break out the headphones. It was a long time before I met folks who loved old Ubu.

@Fuzzy: Your description of old school rap's power to piss people off mirrors my experience. Its appearence in the suburbs really divided the punks in my region. It was embrace it or virulently hate it, and I once nearly came to blows with a peer who couldn't handle that I dare follow his shitty GBH tape with Schooly D's SMOKE SOME KILL.


Sometimes, this blog makes me feel like a big fat moron.


I've been developing a Ramones biopic, with The Banana Splits attached to play The Ramones. We've got Miss Piggy signed on to play Debbie Harry, and Oscar the Grouch in the Hilly Krystal role, and we've been trying to get HR Pufnstuff to play David Thomas.

John M

Street Waves. Street Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaves.

Grant L

Personally I find "Sentimental Journey" bracing in a very good way, but being that I've long believed goofiness to be a very underrated attribute, I've got a real soft spot for David going off the deep end. I even love the rap about nature, ants and grasshoppers on the version of "Arabia" that mistakenly made it onto LP.


Like J.M., I'm right behind you. My best friend and I were the punk-rock weirdos in our suburban DC high school (late '70s), but we could never get into Pere Ubu.

Maybe it's a guy thing, like The Three Stooges.

Paul Duane

Great post, it evoked powerful memories of lying in bed in a darkened room in the early '80s listening to my bootlegged cassette tape of this record, and David Thomas expressing all my adolescent angst as he chanted and spat "It's home... it's a home, it's a rug, it's a home, it's a window on a - PPPITTTT!!!" (or whatever it was he was saying - that's what I always heard it as).

Glenn Kenny

@ Hamletta: The Three Stooges, huh? Wow, that hurts.

I can't really make the same generalization, necessarily. Through the years, the women in my life have either been completely fine with Ubu (e.g. the aforementioned college girlfriend) or...not. My Lovely Wife, for instance, is not a fan, but can be bent a bit. A few years back the reconstituted Rocket From The Tombs was coming to Southpaw in Brooklyn, and my wife balked like crazy at the prospect of going. "But Richard Lloyd's on guitar," I told her. (She's a substantive Television fan, bless her socks.) No dice. As it happened though, her former roommate was going, as was another gal pal, as such are sometimes referred to as. "They really don't sound so much like Ubu as they do the Stooges, only with David Thomas singing," argued the former roommate. "And that's the problem," countered MLW, doing a Spencer Pratt avant le lettre. In any event, she was eventually persuaded (and I see that at the time we had been married a little over a month, talk about pressing one's luck), and she enjoyed herself...with qualifications. And she was compelled to admit that, whatever his limitations as a vocalist, Thomas was/in in fact a genuine PERFORMER. It was a fun evening. New York Times critic Jon Pareles, noting that I seemed to be attending the show with three beautiful women in tow, commented approvingly of my "harem."

Kent Jones

My friend Pete started corresponding with David Thomas on matters poetical and we used to hang backstage after the shows. We saw Thomas and Ralph Carney in some tiny club one night. They did an amazing version of "Hooked on Classics" in those days. And I believe that was the night I realized that "Jehovah's Kingdom Comes," one of my favorite Ubu songs, is, or at least was, meant to be taken literally.

Glenn Kenny

@ Kent: Verily; many pages, perhaps even an entire blog, could be devoted to the former Crocus Behemoth's pronunciatos and/or denials/protestations thereof concerning denomination. Diamanda Galas had a funny/sad story of her encounter with the man when he was sharing a bill with her while she was performing "Litanies of Satan," and he was perhaps unaware that the piece was an adaptation of Baudelaire and not an actual incantation to the Dark Prince or any such thing. Not that it would have necessarily made a difference...

I sometimes used to entertain a fancy of putting a bunch of recording artists who were also Witnesses in the same room, to wit, David Thomas, Michael Jackson, George Benson. Well, that'll never happen now...


Thankfully I'm still rolling my eyes!!!

Hollis Lime

Don't forget Damo Suzuki, Glenn.


Sorry, man. I was just throwing it out there. And just to prove myself wrong, I'm pretty sure I did meet a woman once who thought the Three Stooges were funny. Can't remember who she was now.

And my stars and garters; Witnesses? If they come to your door, tell them you're Lutheran. I don't know why, but it worked like garlic on Dracula for me. I was only telling the truth, but from what I hear, it's rather odd for JWs to say, "Well! Gotta go now!"

Mr. Ziffel

Although I'm not completely familiar with Ubu's work, I can say that "Final Solution" fucking rocks. A friend played it for me a few years back and I couldn't believe it when he told me it was release in, like, 1976. That song (and obviously the band) was WAY ahead of its time.

Ian W. Hill

I'm not sure if Mr. Thomas is still a Witness -- when I started seeing Ubu, he was very very precise about not swearing onstage (even refusing to say the title of Wayne Kramer's album LLMF when Kramer played with Ubu at Knitting Factory, after asking Wayne, "Does that stand for a bad word?").

The last few times I've seen him, with Ubu or doing solo poetry, the man has cursed onstage like a sonuvabitch. Maybe the divorce, etc. has changed things.

Joseph Neff

I just remembered this...


Kent Jones

Mr. Ziffel, a LOT of records fucking rocked in 1976. You have some catching up to do. That year alone: RAMONES, THE ROYAL SCAM, VIVA ROXY MUSIC, LET'S STICK TOGETHER, RADIO ETHIOPIA, JONATHAN RICHMAN AND THE MODERN LOVERS, STATION TO STATION and LOW, RASTAMAN VIBRATION, HOWLIN' WIND and HEAT TREATMENT, BLONDIE, "Street Waves," "So It Goes" and "Heart of the City," and so on.

1977 was even better.

Mr. Ziffel

Well, Kent, actually I am familiar with quite a few of those records. I was 12 in 1976, and although I was mostly listening to top ten stuff on CKLW at the time and had no older brothers or sisters, I did indeed know who David Bowie and Steely Dan were. It wasn't until a couple of years later that I was turned on to the Ramones and Blondie, in addition to Iggy, Elvis Costello, the Clash, the B-52s, etc., but better late than never, right? Unfortunately, Pere Ubu wasn't on my radar...I'm sure they played the Detroit area at some time, but I never heard of them until probably sometime in the late eighties when I read about them in Spin or something. My point was that because I AM familiar with many of the sounds of the mid-seventies and after, I was very pleasantly surpised to find that "Final Solution" is this awesome punk/new-wave/industrial hybrid released well before most of those words were used to categorize rock music.

But thanks for the playlist, anyway. I definitely need to listen to some more Graham Parker!

That Fuzzy Bastard

Anyone else read "Punk Rock and Trailer Parks", the fun comics memoir by "Derf", about being a young punk rocker in Akron? Pere Ubu doesn't come up, unfortunately, but there's some great stories of hijinks with the Plasmatics, the Clash, Ian Dury, et. al.

Kent Jones

Mr. Ziffel, thanks for the clarification. Actually, in my opinion, those two albums are Graham Parker's shining moment. There are some great songs on STICK TO ME and SQUEEZING OUT SPARKS is pretty damn good, but he was at his absolute best right at the beginning, and HOWLIN' WIND is incredible. Great horn charts on both.


As one of your kinfolk, I do recall always being rather intrigued by what the heck you were listening to. And also, being a bit shy and a few years younger, I usually observed with curiosity from a safe distance. I will say I have to thank you for exposing me to bands like, The Ramones, The Feelies, Sonic Youth and the aforementioned Pere Ubu, whom I actually saw at Maxwell's many a moon ago and even ran into you there, ironically--- the true fan you are. No eye-rolls here. Just appreciation.

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